Miller: Krystkowiak’s trash talk proves the Holy War is alive and well

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— Chris Ayers

Head coach Larry Krystkowiak made it clear the Utah-BYU rivalry is alive and well after Utah’s victory over Wichita State last Wednesday.
Commenting on his team’s tough non-conference schedule, he said, “I said going into this stretch of five tough games, playing five elite teams, I think, well, four and a half if you count BYU, I guess.”
Make no mistake, this wasn’t a shot fired by Krystkowiak — it was just fun and innocent rivalry banter.
“Me cracking a joke shouldn’t do anything,” Krystkowiak said Monday. “If it lit a fire, so be it. Coaches and players look for motivation any way they can. Once the ball gets tipped I don’t know how much it matters. You want to have some gamesmanship. It’s good for the rivalry.”
BYU and Utah aren’t supposed to like each other. Conference associations be damned, these teams have been rivals for years and it’s in their DNA to want to beat one another.
Before last year’s Utah victory over the Cougars, the basketball edition of the rivalry game had really been dominated by BYU. As the Utes went through a complete rebuild, the Cougars won year after year, most of the time with ease. As the BYU wins tallied up, the game lost some sizzle, but with Utah returning to basketball relevancy, the game’s importance has returned. So has the trash talk.
Sure, there won’t be a regular season conference title on the line, and both schools will still have plenty of time to prove their worth to the NCAA selection committee following Wednesday’s contest, but this game has definitely been circled by both teams.
Krystkowiak wasn’t trying to light a “fire,” but his acknowledgement of BYU between games against Wichita State and Kansas shows just how big this game is to him and his program.
The Cougars might not be the most marquee name the Utes play this season, but I doubt Krystkowiak has forgotten the 61-42 beating BYU put on Utah in his first season as head coach.
That 2011 game was at the Huntsman Center, but Cougar fans made BYU feel at home as they flooded Utah’s home arena with blue and seemed to outnumber the Ute supporters in attendance. Krystkowiak has seen his program ascend from that night to a team that beats top-10 teams in front of a packed house.
When Krystkowiak arrived in Salt Lake and cleaned house, the rivalry was an afterthought. BYU was coming off one its best years ever, which included a sweet-16 performance and a national player of the year, while the Utes were busy preparing for a six-win season. The two programs couldn’t have been further apart.
Last season’s squad lit a spark that brought life back to the program and its fan base, and there was no better example of this than the BYU game. This time it wasn’t a home game in Salt Lake for the Cougs. The Huntsman Center was loud and full of crimson, and the Runnin’ Utes gave them every reason to cheer, routing BYU 81-64. Now Krystkowiak wants revenge in Provo.
His words were playful, with no malice, but Krystkowiak wants this one bad. He sparked the rivalry talk a week early for a reason.
The Utes and Cougars might not be facing off on the gridiron, but things couldn’t be more heated on the hardwood.
 
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